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Previews: 01/11/09- Close: 02/07/09 Caesar and Cleopatra
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Ashley Griffin

 

Jon Kandel ©2019  Wrenn Schmidt as Cleopatra
“Ye shall marvel, after your ignorant manner, that men twenty centuries ago were already just such as you, and spoke and lived as ye speak and live, no worse and no better, no wiser and no sillier.”

The above lines, cut from the Resonance Ensemble’s production of Caesar and Cleopatra but printed in the program, beautifully sum up this lovely jewel of a play. Each season the Resonance Ensemble performs two plays in rep: one a classic, the other a contemporary piece inspired by that classic. This season Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra  (adapted by Eric Overmyer) is the classic, and 23 Knives, by Christopher Boal, is the contemporary play. Both complement each other beautifully, and I highly recommend seeing them both.

Jon Kandel ©2019  Chris Cesaro as Caesar and Wrenn Schmidt as Cleopatra

Caesar and Cleopatra tells a fictionalized account of the relationship between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. What makes this story so engaging is that Cleopatra is portrayed as the actual age she was when she met Caesar – 16 years old. This is not the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra – although one can easily see how she will grow up to become her. This is a sweet, clever child who finds herself in a world she doesn’t understand, yet must somehow learn to rule. Enter Caesar, a middle-aged man who becomes the father Cleopatra never had but desperately needs. Though he is attracted to her (more in the sense of being enchanted by her than desiring her romantically), he becomes her guide and confidant. He is the one person who can lead her from being a little girl to one of the greatest rulers of all time. The scene where they meet is a flawless, and one I’m sure theater students all over the country would kill to get their hands on.

Cleopatra is played by Wrenn Schmidt, and the evening truly belongs to her. She is startling, engaging, and all around remarkable in every way. Chris Ceraso is heartwarming as a gentle Caesar, and their relationship IS the play. But whenever Schmidt is onstage, she lights up the whole theater, and during the few scenes where she is not present I found myself pining for her return. The frustrating thing about this production is that, with the exception of some side characters such as Apollodorus (Rafael Jordan – in a part that is a much better fit for him than that in 23 Knives), and Ftatateeta (Geraldine Librandi), everything that does not involve Cleopatra (or Caesar AND Cleopatra) drags and feels like it’s taking place in a different play. The heart of the story is a girl learning to grow up, and a man learning to grow old. Whenever that is front and center, the play is truly engaging.

The design, especially the set and lights, are perfect, and the music that occurs throughout seems to fill the air with the scent of Egyptian spices. Whatever the relative effect of brilliant acting vs. profound directing, every scene with Caesar and Cleopatra was pitch-perfect – fluid and full of life, and all of the ensemble scenes felt slightly stilted.

The relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra is at once a slice of truth, and a secret wish of each of us. At some point, every man has longed for a Cleopatra, and every girl has longed for this type of a fatherly Caesar. It is this, and the performances of Wrenn Schmidt and Chris Ceraso, that make Caesar and Cleopatra a lovely night at the theater.

Venue:
Clurman Theater (Theater Row) : 410 W 42nd St